The dynamics of the 21st Century are forcing businesses of all sizes and types to be able to react quickly and decisively to rapidly changing business and competitive conditions and changing customer demands. The more agile a company, the faster it can respond to market dynamics and develop new products and processes, recognize new opportunities, and redeploy resources accordingly. The degree of agility may be the difference between being a market leader instead of an also-ran. Agility requires proactive planning, business intelligence, alignment and collaboration among all the key functions to make the right decisions and turn opportunities into a competitive advantage. One of the key alignment issues facing many companies is the alignment between Marketing and Sales.
Marketing and Sales Alignment Remains Elusive
The issue of marketing and sales alignment isn’t new. Most marketing and sales people have been in organizations where marketing has been known to accuse sales of not following up on leads and refusing to track leads through the sales cycle and sales has been known to accuse marketing of not providing viable qualified leads. This misalignment is often attributed to a variety of factors, such as different goals, different timelines, and different psychologies. Market dynamics such as commoditization, the Internet, mobility and virtualization and changing business models only compound the problem. Companies attempting to resolve the issue often approach the problem by trying to tighten the alignment of marketing activities within the sales cycle, improving coordination around lead generation, and increasing sales force participation in the marketing process. Sadly these attempts often fail. Regardless of various approaches taken by companies to address this issue, the lack of alignment and collaboration between marketing and sales persists. Both organizations need to change for the organization to succeed.
From Transactional to Customer Centricity
To achieve greater alignment, both organizations need to decide together which market segments offer the best opportunities and deserve the highest priority. Today’s buyers are more sophisticated and today’s buying processes are more complex. The transactional approach of marketing generating qualified leads that sales then brings to a close is an outdated view. The transactional approach is what permits marketing and sales to operate as independent silos. This results in Sales immersing itself in the latest training, engaging in calling on customers and focusing on post-sale efforts and Marketing focusing on implementing various campaigns and 2 coordinating a variety of tactics.
A Customer-Centric Approach Offers Hope
Customer Centricity requires a company to look at the world through the eyes of the customer, what they want from you, what they expect from you, what they can count on from you. One way to become more customer-centric is to move from looking at the world from a selling perspective to taking a customer relationship lifecycle perspective. Taking a customer relationship lifecycle approach provides an avenue for alignment by focusing both organizations on the same set of outcomes – creating, keeping and growing the value of customers. The customer relationship lifecycle begins the moment a customer appears on the radar screen, moves into the lead-sales funnel, emerges as a customer and engages in a variety of experiences that result in them becoming an advocate. The customer relationship lifecycle provides insight into which customers provide the greatest values to your company. As result, the company can create a set of common metrics for both organizations which will help ensure alignment. Customer relationship management metrics include buying related metrics such as recency frequency and quantity; cost related metrics such as gross amount of money spent on acquiring and retaining the customer through marketing dollars, resources spent generating each sale, and post sales service and support; and customer value related metrics such as the duration or longevity of that customer’s relationship with your business, the referral rate, and share of wallet. Establishing a common set of customer-centric metrics facilitates alignment and collaboration and provides both organization with customer-oriented vocabulary and set of priorities.
Does Alignment Matter?
While no one can offer any guarantees, aligning Marketing and Sales makes good business sense and ultimately impacts the bottom line. A study conducted by Aberdeen on sales effectiveness with more than 200 executives from the executive, sales, marketing and IT management functions study found that companies that had strong collaboration between these two functions achieve a higher sales effectiveness. For many companies, this additional boom in sales more than justifies making the effort.
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Today, a suitable marketing automation platform is available to meet just about any company’s requirements and budget. These platforms often include systems for managing digital assets, allocating resources and tracking marketing expenditures, automating campaigns (online and offline), measuring marketing activity and demand generation, and managing Web content and leads.Many companies invest in marketing automation platforms as a way to make their marketing organizations more efficient. Though marketing automation can achieve that objective, two key benefits of these systems is that they help you connect better with prospects and improve the opportunity to engage prospects and customers.
What Marketing Automation Isn’t
Marketing automation isn’t magic. Success requires taking a methodical and disciplined
approach to segmenting, defining the customer-buying process, establishing agreed-upon
definitions of stages, creating personas, establishing common metrics, and committing to
faithfully using the system
.Marketing automation allows you to tailor your content and interactions to enhance how you connect with and engage prospects and customers. As a result, you can positively affect the conversion rate and sales cycle. And, in these tough times, who wouldn’t want to see higher and faster conversions?
Take a Customer-Centric Approach to Configuration
Such benefits alone present a good business case for marketing automation. But for a system to “be all that it can be,” it must be properly configured and deployed. Proper configuration and alignment require and enable stronger alignment between Sales and Marketing.
Many companies configure their systems around how they might sell and evaluate an opportunity (e.g., whether they’ve identified a budget, project, or need). However, before you deploy, take an outside-in view and configure the system around how your customer finds, evaluates, selects, and buys products in your category.
For your investment and that approach to pay off, Sales and Marketing need to agree on how the customer buys, the buying stages, and what constitutes a qualified opportunity, in terms of both fit (segment, budget, size, etc.) and buying behaviors. This approach allows you to use fit and behavior to create a lead-scoring schema.
Create and Measure Four Customer Interactions
Marketing and sales teams are typically proficient in connecting at the beginning and end of the conversation, but the real challenge is managing the middle of the conversation. The middle conversation is when prospects and customers are in the “in-between”—between initial contact and interest, on the one hand, and the short list and final selection, on the other.
A properly configured and deployed marketing automation system enables you to manage the middle. How? It makes it possible to cost-effectively sustain a dialogue with qualified
opportunities until they are ready to buy while enabling you to monitor the interaction between those opportunities and your organization.
You’ll want to set performance targets for these four kinds of interactions, and then use your marketing automation system to create, measure, and monitor them:
Think of connections as those contacts with whom you have established communication and rapport and who have agreed to be “touched” by your organization. A connection doesn’t necessarily result in a conversation. Connections are just that: two entities that have a link between them.Think of how many people you may have in your LinkedIn network that you are connected with but don’t necessarily have conversations with. Conversations suggest an exchange—the sharing of ideas, opinions, or observations. Consider how many people you “talk” with on a variety of 3 topics on any given day. Though some of those people might be interesting, they may not necessarily be the right people—or they may not be ready to move the relationship forward.
Ultimately your marketing efforts aim to create engagement, and you want your marketing automation system to support those efforts. Engagement consists of interactions that indicate the strength of the relationship.
Finally, you want to produce and measure consideration because it is the precursor to conversion. Consideration simply refers to those prospects and customers who are actively “shopping” for the products and services you offer and are considering your offer among the options.
If You Build It, They Will Come
The premise of marketing automation is that it will help Marketing increase the number of
business opportunities for your company, deliver sales-worthy and ready leads to Sales, improve your visibility into the pipeline, and enable your marketing organization to focus on efforts that will drive the highest conversion rate and the lowest cost.
The value proposition is that marketing automation will shorten your sales cycle and help
improve your forecast accuracy.And it’s all possible with this one caveat: Marketing automation is only as good as the effort you make in using it. To use it properly and realize the kinds of results you want will likely require changing processes, addressing Marketing and Sales alignment, and improving skills.
Research suggests that when marketing and sales processes, skills, and systems are aligned, an organization can see a five-fold improvement in revenue. If you are willing to make the necessary investments, you can realize the benefits of implementing a marketing automation platform.
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